Grass roots action
15th November 2021
The Treehouse in Holt is an inspirational place offering all manner of community support and help to those in need – and its gardens play their part too, as Alison Huntley discovers
Just a hop and a skip from Holt town centre, The Treehouse is not just a bargain-priced cafe, it is also a community ‘fridge’ offering free food donated by local shops, a home to many diverse groups… and over an acre of wonderful grounds, from a secure ‘wild garden’ (perfect for children) to fruit trees, flower beds, veg, herbs and a yurt.
And there’s lots more to come, with a sensory garden, summer houses and meeting/social spaces all on the agenda.
This is kindness in action and the place runs on love. Seven or eight regular volunteers help keep the cafe and ‘inside’ going while about six regulars work in the garden. Lots more do their occasional bit.
The town has taken The Treehouse to its heart and its staunch supporters include the Kelling Estate and Gresham’s School. Gresham’s made The Treehouse its annual charity last year but didn’t expect to match the usual £10,000 it would normally raise because of the pandemic. In the end, they raised £15,000 and the money is still coming in.
The Treehouse building used to house a children’s centre which closed in 2019. Treehouse founders Lorna Berry and Rachel Forsyth saw a desperate social situation looming as the centre’s funding was axed.
“It was horrific news. The centre was a lifeline,” says Rachel. “The child poverty hidden within a town that’s considered ‘well heeled’ means that people may not understand the important role that the Children’s Centre played, and what effect its closure would have on local families.”
Lorna is a music specialist who runs groups developing children’s speech, language and communication; Rachel met her at a group in Briston.
They asked the council if they could take the centre on and after seeing a business plan, the council agreed. “We signed in 2019 and the council started with building work and alterations,” says Rachel. “We had two months to get everything done and opened as a fully-functioning centre on 23 February. It was nerve-wracking!”
But after just three weeks and two days of trading, lockdown meant they had to close their doors.
“The garden was always part of the idea,” says Rachel. “At first, we thought the front garden could be an allotment but with lockdown, we realised people needed an outdoor place they could go to with seating and different sections.”
In fact, lockdowns brought home so vividly the importance of being outside that Lorna is planning to become a horticultural therapist. “People have learnt that being outside is better than any conventional therapies,” adds Rachel.
The garden combines their twin aims to help both the community and the environment. It also dovetails neatly with their educational ambitions.
“We have a home-schooling group working in the garden on Wednesdays. They grow our salads,” explains Lorna. “It’s a great way to learn. And the veg can go from garden to plate in minutes.” As well as salads, the garden also provides their onions, garlic and some berries.
Kelling Estate, whose Holt Garden Centre has made The Treehouse their charity of the year, have provided “masses of things, all the fruit trees. They gave us an orchard!” says Lorna. “And they helped build the wild garden.”
The wild garden should be smothered with wildflowers next year while the herb area near the front door will become a knot garden.
The sensory garden is the biggest thing on the agenda and is even more of a community effort, with various groups being canvassed on what’s required. Three summer houses will also be placed around the front garden to provide seating, shelter and meeting space.
When it came to garden design, the pair’s only initial thought was that it should be based around circles rather than straight lines. One rainy day saw them using string and paint to mark out the main circle which they plan to enclose with a wall of straw bales covered in lime kiln plaster (all built by themselves). Inside, there’ll be a get-together space with tree trunk seats. Hopefully, Rachel and Lorna will get the chance to sit down in there too.
The Treehouse, Charles Road, Holt is open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 2pm. Find out more at www.thetreehousecafe.co.uk
Photography: Alison Huntley